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Gold phytoextraction in developing countries:

using the value of gold to pay for the clean up

of degraded land

Christopher Anderson

Tiaki International Ltd., Palmerston North, New Zealand

Fabio Moreno, Bob Stewart, Carel Wreesman,

Jorge Gardea-Torresdey, Brett Robinson, John Meech and Marcello Veiga

INR, Massey University; Akzo Nobel Chemicals, Arnhem, The Netherlands

University of Texas at El Paso, USA; Swiss Federal Institute for Technology, Zurich;
CERM3, University of British Columbia, Canada

• context: phytoremediation
• quick review and background
• modelling tools
• basic economics
• scenario for developing countries
• where and what next?
what is hindering implementation?

• Lack of environmental regulation

• Perceived security of conventional technology
• Client hesitation, plants take time to grow
• Cost

• There is no money to be made in clean up, so

why do it?
how can we overcome the problem?

• Revenue; make remediation pay for itself

• I will admit that gold is not a contaminant
• But it does occur with contaminants
• Let’s get them both out at the same time and
make money
• Gold revenue pays for phytoremediation
background to gold phytoextraction
review: 1997 - 2004
• 1997: discovery at Massey University, plants
could be induced to accumulate Au
• 1998: concept of Au phytomining published
(Anderson et al., 1998, Nature)

• 1998-2004: ongoing laboratory and greenhouse

research in NZ
• 2002: US discovery of Au nanoparticles inside
plants (Gardea Torresdey et al., 2002, Nano Letters)
• 2003: NZ field research culminated in Brazil
(Anderson et al., 2005, Min. Engin.)

• 2003: nanoparticle research commenced in NZ

gold-soaking plants
induced hyperaccumulation

• If Au is soluble plants will take it up

• The mining industry has solubility expertise
• Plant concentration is limited by the ‘soil’
concentration and by suitable ligands
• This is a natural process…. environmentally
occurring chemicals will cause plants to
accumulate Au
• This is also a known process ….biogeochemical
laboratory and greenhouse trials

Experimental data illustrating the plant-soil correlation

Gold concentration in plant (mg/kg)


Gold concentration in plant (mg/kg)


120 120

80 80


1.25 2.5 5.0 0
0 2 4 6 8
Gold concentration in soil (mg/kg)
Gold concentration in soil (mg/kg)

Gold uptake by Brassica juncea Anderson, Moreno and Meech, 2004,

Anderson et al. 2003, Minerals Engineering
modelling tools

• Modelling is used to design chemical irrigation

• Ensures limited potential for leachate
• Ensures best possible recovery of gold
Modelling gold uptake, a DSS
DSS results
economics of gold phytomining
real life application

• Our economic aim is to achieve a gold

concentration of 100 ppm in a crop with a
harvested biomass of 10 t/ha
• Yield 1 kg of gold per hectare from 1 t of ash
• Gold is not the only metal removed in the plants
• Other, valuable metals can be recovered (Ag, Pt)
• Other, less or non-valuable but toxic metals can
also be recovered (Hg, Cu)
progress towards our target
Gold concentration in the plant (mg/kg)

200 • 2003 Brazil work generated

biomass with a max. average Au
160 concentration of 40 mg/kg
• The ‘soil’ contained 0.6 mg/kg

• Uptake was well modelled by

80 controlled studies
y = 51.314ln(x) + 62.882
R2 = 0.7042 • Conservative modelling shows
that we need > 2 mg/kg Au in the
soil to reach our target of 100
0 mg/kg in the plants
0 2 4 6 8

Gold concentration in the soil (mg/kg) • Biomass of 10 t/ha is realistic

Anderson, Moreno and Meech, 2005, Minerals Engineering

can this really make money?

nominal-case scenario, 10 t of biomass incinerated then

solvent extraction of 1 t of ash. Gold @ US$400 / oz
Item cost revenue
Agricultural and $ 1,327
labour costs
Irrigation and $ 1,975
chemical costs
Processing costs $ 2,657
Sub total $ 5,959
Gold recovered 1 kg @ US$400 / oz $12,862
Gross margin $ 6,903
Fosterville gold mine, Australia

US$7k / ha for clean

up here
Igarape Bahia mine, Amazon

or maybe
US$7k / ha for
clean up here
scenario for the developing world……

phytoextraction and artisanal gold mining

The Serra Pelada artisanal gold mine,
Brazilian Amazon, 1980
vision for artisanal
communities Serra Pelada 2003

• A ‘farming’ system for

mercury and gold
• Value of the gold pays for
clean-up and education
• Subsidise the development
of sustainable agriculture
• We’re looking to recover 1
kg of gold per hectare and
to remove 0.5 kg of mercury
• This is the same vision as
Brooks in the 90’s and
Baker et al. today for Ni
what does this achieve?

• Gold for sale

• Employment, training and education for local
• A cleaner environment

• The value of gold pays for these benefits

• Once the gold is exhausted, the land can be
farmed by trained workers
• The lure of gold will make farming an attractive
where do we hope to work?

• Carajas region in Brazil; the Serra Pelada


• Project team:
– Tiaki International Ltd
– Tiaki Brazil Ltd

Aim: sustainable development and poverty reduction

where do we hope to work?

• Tongguan County, Shaanxi Province, China

• Project team:
– Tiaki International Ltd, NZL
– Scitrax UK Ltd
– State Key Laboratory for Environmental
Geochemistry, Guiyang, CN
– Massey University, NZL

Aim: sustainable development and poverty reduction

what and where next?
the future for gold phytoextraction

• Concept is proven. Commercialisation operation

undergoing due diligence

• Niche market technology to farm small deposits

(< 10,000 t) of gold-rich soil, mine waste and
• We need to implement applications

• Potential high value applications for the gold

TEM image of gold
inside plant cells

1 µm

magnification x20,600
US Airforce
funded research
• Nanoparticles could have use as industrial
• Gold nanoparticles also find application in gold-
colloid paints, electronics and medicine

• Develop a more cost-effective gold recovery

system based on nanotechnology

• New generation lixiviants to make gold soluble

to conclude………

or this

we find this

we then

or this

not this

we farm gold

do this